Industry Articles

Maritime Singapore Performed Well Amid COVID-19

AMOID2122_ED01-Pix01After a steep decline in early 2020 when COVID-19 struck global trade, international sea trade volumes showed signs of recovery from the second half of last year. This has helped Maritime Singapore to stay resilient in 2020, even though its economy had contracted by 5.8 percent.

During this time of crisis, Singapore port remained open for cargo operations and marine services, including bunkering, ship supplies and shipyard repairs, to ensure commerce by sea and global supply chains remain undisrupted. And although there were significant disruptions to supply chains that have caused congestions at different ports around the world, affecting vessel waiting times and port productivity, the port of Singapore continued to facilitate the flow of essential goods and cargo through.

In his opening address at the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF)’s New Year Conversations 2021, held on 13 January, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs, Mr Chee Hong Tat, shared about Maritime Singapore’s performance.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, figures showed that the Port of Singapore stood resilient in 2020.


Accounting for 20 percent of global bunkering sales, Singapore remains the world’s top bunkering port with sales amounting to 49.8 million-tonnes in 2020. Port of Singapore was crowned for the 32nd time, “Best Seaport – Asia” at the 2020 Asia Freight, Logistics and Supply Chain Awards (AFLAS) held in Hong Kong on 9 November 2020.

Singapore port was also recognised as an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Port Services Network (APSN) Green Port in 2020, the third consecutive time the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) had received this accolade since the Green Port Award System (GPAS) programme was launched in 2016. The recognition affirms MPA’s efforts on decarbonisation.

In 2020, Singapore witnessed the trend of many maritime companies expanding their presence in Singapore, reflecting a vote of confidence in the country’s stability, connectivity and capabilities as a trusted hub and safe harbour for maritime companies during tough times.

Among the companies to set up in Singapore last year were Swire Bulk, previously the dry bulk shipping division of China Navigation, who separated out their dry bulk shipping activities and established a new headquarters in Singapore.

Yang Ming chose Singapore as its regional base for its container shipping business to provide liner services across Asia, Middle East, North Europe and the Mediterranean.

Wilhelmsen established a joint venture with thyssenkrupp, a German engineering conglomerate, to deliver maritime spare parts using 3D printing. They are expected to set up their manufacturing headquarters in Singapore, serving key port locations around the world.

At the SMF New Year Conversations 2021, Mr Chee pledged support to build on strong foundations and to work with tripartite partners to grow the maritime industry and create more jobs for Singaporeans.

“The Government will support the maritime industry by focussing on three “Ts” - trust, transformation and talent.”

Over the years, the Government, industry and unions have established strong partnerships anchored on trust. This close relationship between tripartite partners has helped the country to navigate through many storms together.

Addressing the COVID-19 Challenge
In 2020, there was a period when hundreds of thousands of seafarers globally were stranded at sea, as a result of border closures and the stoppage of air travel.

Seafarer unions raised their concerns on the welfare of seafarers which saw the banding together of tripartite partners to come up with innovative solutions to facilitate safe crew change for vessels calling at the Port of Singapore.

With support from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other international organisations, the COVID-19 Singapore Crew Change Guidebook was launched to provide guidance to the shipping community on how to effect crew change in Singapore during the crisis.

On 1 September 2020, MPA, with the support of PSA Singapore, set up a Crew Facilitation Centre (CFC) at the Tanjong Pagar Terminal. The self-contained facility came with an onsite medical centre, testing and holding facilities. Dedicated to sign-on crew, the CFC would house crew for up to 48 hours prior to their boarding their ships, when their ship and flight schedules do not match. The CFC facilitated more crew change to take place in Singapore and keep both the ships and local community safe. Sign-off crew would proceed to depart Singapore or stay at existing designated holding facilities for up to 48 hours, and be strictly segregated from the community.

Singapore Shipping Tripartite Alliance Resilience (SG-STAR) Fund was established to enhance upstream measures in the home countries where the crew originate from.

These initiatives allowed Singapore to play its role in tackling a humanitarian crisis for the crew, and showing the way forward for the global maritime industry.

In the fight against COVID-19, one important next step for the maritime sector is to vaccinate and protect workers in Singapore, starting with those who have to go on board vessels such as seafarers, pilots, surveyors and cargo officers. Singapore became one of the first countries to prioritise COVID-19 vaccinations for frontline maritime personnel. Under the Sea – Air Vaccination Exercise (SAVE), over 10,000 frontline maritime personnel were expected to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by end January 2021. The trust built up amongst the tripartite partners has helped with the vaccination exercise.

Inter-modal Connectivity
Another example of the strong collaboration arising from the high-trust environment in Singapore is the enhancement of inter-modal connectivity.

As a cargo solution, inter-modal connectivity is cheaper than full air freight, and faster than full sea freight. It is not required in all situations, but it is useful as an additional logistics option for companies to move their supplies and products.

Singapore previously worked with the industry to develop inter-modal connectivity solutions for specific goods such as chilled meat, and to meet increased e-commerce volumes.

In January 2021, government agencies partnered industry stakeholders to roll out a new inter-modal express cargo solution between Batam and Singapore, where high-value, time-sensitive cargoes such as electronic components manufactured in Batam were transported by sea, before being trucked to the airport, to be flown to other countries.

The entire shipment process occurred within a single day, and benefitted manufacturers and logistics companies in Batam and Singapore by enabling a quicker, more efficient and cost-effective distribution of cargo. It also enabled Singapore-based companies to leverage on cost efficiencies through extended production bases in Batam.

Building on the success of the inter-modal solution, Singapore will continue to work with industry partners to explore other novel inter-modal solutions to boost Singapore’s cargo connectivity, and buttress its position as the logistics hub of the region.

Going forward, the Government will continue to keep Singapore as a trusted hub for maritime operations – one that is underpinned by stability, adherence to the rule of law and pro-business policies.

In the area of transformation, this includes reviewing rules and processes, and supporting new innovations in technology and business models.

It took a pandemic for us to realise the urgent need to accelerate digital transformation efforts in the maritime industry.

“We had to relook, we had to change various familiar processes, to reduce the spread of the virus and keep our community safe.” said Mr Chee.

Within the maritime sector, MPA and terminal operators introduced new protocols that allowed visiting ships to call and undertake contactless operations. This reduced the need for shore-based maritime personnel to board ships that called at the port, which in turn lowered the risk of COVID-19 transmission without compromising operational safety.

SafeEntry, the national digital check-in system was extended to the maritime sector in Singapore in January 2021. Leveraging on technology, MPA improved the safety of maritime operations, by introducing the new SafeEntry @ Sea platform at piers, such as Marina South Pier and West Coast Pier, to strengthen existing Safe Management Measures and facilitate contact tracing of shore-based personnel who regularly travel out to board and work on ships in Singapore’s anchorages.

Singapore is continuing with the long-term investments to transform its port and to secure its position as the world’s top transhipment hub. “We partner our port operators, PSA and Jurong Port, to co-fund R&D to automate manpower-intensive and manual processes, to improve port efficiency and productivity. “

PSA is looking into automating quay crane and quay-side operations such as coning and de-coning systems for containers, to eliminate repetitive tasks and improve port operations.

Singapore continues to enhance its digital connectivity, to better serve customers at the port, and with ports around the world through digitalPORT@SGTM and digitalOCEANSTM.

During the pandemic, it was recorded that more than 500 shipping companies accessed digitalPORT@SGTM, which was rolled out the year before, to get a one-stop clearance to enter/leave Singapore port. By 2021, the portal was enhanced to also serve as a single digital shopfront for booking terminal and marine services, facilitating just-in-time (JIT) operations for optimal vessel passage planning within Singapore port.

Expanding its digital efforts beyond Singapore to harness global port-to-port and system-to-system digital connectivity, MPA has been pro-active to link up with digitalOCEANSTM. The digitalisation of global shipping, through a maritime single window will not only reduce human interactions, but allow shipping to yield a new level of efficiency with lower emissions.

The Government will also continue to support transformation efforts by maritime firms in Singapore.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can tap on the Maritime Digitalisation Playbook, which serves as a guide to help maritime companies develop and implement digitalisation plans.

On 8 December 2020, MPA introduced the Maritime Cluster Fund (MCF) to facilitate the growth of Singapore’s maritime cluster, where companies could apply for grants should they wish to set up new business lines, upskill their workforce, or implement productivity-improving solutions.

First movers and pioneers are invited to testbed and develop new innovations under the PIER71 initiative and the MPA Living Lab, with the hope that these continue to draw in innovative firms and talent from all around the world. “We aim to more than triple the number of maritime tech start-ups supported under the Pier71 funding programme, from 30 to 100 by 2025,” said Mr Chee. The goal is to be the top maritime start-up hub in the world, the Silicon Valley for maritime technology.

Cleaner Greener Maritime Singapore
Singapore has also been at the forefront of promoting the use of cleaner marine fuels, including LNG. It has been developing LNG bunkering capabilities under the LNG bunkering pilot programme. It has also partnered port administrations to establish a global network of LNG bunker-ready ports, co-funded the construction of LNG-fueled vessels, and continues to promote LNG as a cleaner, interim fuel.

On 4 January 2021, Singapore sealed its position in Asia as the first port to offer ship-to-ship LNG bunkering.

Through the SGD40 million Maritime Green Future Fund, MPA is also working with the industry and academia to develop technologies and pilot the use of alternative marine fuels and electric vessels. Through collaborations with institutes of higher learning, technology companies, and industry partners, Singapore hopes to establish itself as the Centre of Excellence for R&D for decarbonisation.

Starting with the harbour craft sector, SGD9 million has been set aside to support up to three consortiums over the next five years, under a R&D grant call to decarbonise the domestic harbour craft fleet.

On the talent front, a pipeline of maritime professionals has to be scaled-up and skilled-up to meet the demands of disruption, digitalisation and decarbonisation.

Currently, Maritime Singapore employs over 170,000 people across a diverse range of jobs under the sector.

Regardless of the pandemic situation, the maritime sector has been resilient and growing from strength to strength. The maritime sector is seeing a rise of cross-disciplinary skills in areas such as data analytics, automation and robotics.

Maritime companies are actively hiring to meet their growing operational needs. There has been a greater interest by locals to take up roles within the sector. PSA Singapore and its service providers have hired about 600 locals since August 2020. The jobs offered were frontline operational roles such as prime mover drivers and crane operators, including engineers and IT executives.

Last August, the government offered more than 200 traineeships with PSA, Jurong Port and Maersk Singapore, to new graduates under the SGUnited Traineeships Programme. The number of openings was expanded to 1,000 training slots, company attachments and traineeship opportunities on 22 October 2020. Speaking at the 10th Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) Forum, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs Chee Hong Tat said that the openings were for in-demand skills such as automation systems, digital transformation, shipping operations and maritime superintendency.

MPA is partnering SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), Workforce Singapore (WSG), the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA), maritime companies and institutes of higher learning to provide the opportunities under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Initiative.

MPA and SSG are also collaborating with institutes such as Singapore Polytechnic (SP), Singapore Management University (SMU), National University of Singapore (NUS), and with firms including PSA, DNV GL and American Bureau of Shipping, on training opportunities through the SGUnited Skills Programme and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways - Company Training Programme.

In ongoing efforts to upskill and reskill workers, MPA will also support companies by making available resources and guidance to support job re-design.

Singapore will continue to invest in and build a future-ready maritime workforce, in partnership with tripartite partners and various institutes of higher learning, who currently administer the MaritimeONE and Tripartite Maritime Scholarships, and maritime education programmes.

At the Singapore Budget Debate 2021 on 5 March, Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat shared plans that $20 billion worth of investments from industry players will be pumped into Singapore’s maritime sector by 2024.

The number of maritime tech start-ups will also increase from 30 to 100 by 2025, while a new programme will be launched to develop leaders with knowledge of key maritime issues and strong business networks.

The business commitments will create more job opportunities in areas such as maritime law and arbitration, ship management and marine insurance.